Saturday, 4 June 2016

52 John Dillwyn Llewelyn and Penllergare Mansion

52 Penllergare (photos: Penllergare Mansion, Observatory) – 4 June 2016

Large houses and mansions which have been demolished locally during the last sixty years include Hill House, home of Swansea’s first stipendiary magistrate, Sketty Park, the residence of Sir John Morris, Burrows Hall, where antiquarian George Grant Francis lived, and Penllergare, home of pioneer photographer John Dillwyn Llewelyn.  Currently Danbert Hall (of the Dyffryn Tinplate Works in Morriston) seems likely to share their fate.

The mansion of Penllergare stood at the north end of the present-day Country Park, bounded now by the M4 motorway to the north and the A483 dual carriageway to the west.  Around the year 1710 a tall three-storey house with five bays was built for the Price family.  It later passed to a cousin John Llewelyn of Ynysygerwn, who added a two-storey block to the side around 1800.  Seven years later his daughter Mary Adams (he had not married her mother) married Lewis Weston Dillwyn; when Colonel Llewelyn died in 1817 he left the mansion to their seven-year-old elder son, his grandson John Dillwyn, to inherit on his 21st birthday.  In the meantime as trustee Lewis Weston Dillwyn, who was a co-founder and first president of the Royal Institution of South Wales, was obliged to move from The Willows in Mount Pleasant into Penllergare, which he did with some reluctance. 

As a condition of inheriting Penllergare in 1831, John Dillwyn took on the additional surname of Llewelyn, to become John Dillwyn Llewelyn.  Two years later at Penrice Church he married Emma Talbot, youngest daughter of Thomas Mansel Talbot and cousin of the pioneer photographer Fox Talbot of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.  L.W. Dillwyn moved into Sketty Hall, which he had purchased in 1831, and Penllergare underwent much reconstruction from 1835 to 1836.

J.D. Llewelyn exploited the natural beauty of the estate in his grand design to create a landscape planted with a rich variety of trees, shrubs and exotic plants.  From 1836 one of the first purpose-built orchid houses was erected in the kitchen gardens, and close to the mansion an Observatory was built around 1851-2.  There one of the first photographs of the moon was taken by J.D. Llewelyn with his eldest daughter Thereza around 1856.  The Observatory survives, and having undergone restoration is registered as a Scheduled Ancient Monument by Cadw.  With his scientific interests, J.D. Llewelyn conducted experiments on the man-made Lower Lake with an electrically-powered boat, which he had built.

He died in 1882, having given 42 acres at Cnap Llwyd (near Morris Castle) to be laid out as a park.  Now known as Parc Llewelyn, the first of Swansea’s “open spaces” was opened in 1878. 

After his son Sir John Talbot Dillwyn Llewellyn, MP for Swansea Town from 1895 to 1900, died in July 1927, the mansion’s best days were over.  It was occupied by the baronet’s daughter, then aged 65, until she moved to 10 Bryn Road in Swansea.  Most of Penllergare’s furniture and contents were auctioned over three days in October 1936, and the mansion was unoccupied for several years.  After brief usage by American troops towards the end of the last war, its condition further deteriorated.

The Bible College of Wales in Derwen Fawr had plans to purchase Penllergare to accommodate Jewish refugees, but these did not materialise, and the mansion was bought by Glamorgan County Council.  With vandalism and further deterioration over the years the building had to be blown up in a series of explosions by the Royal Engineers on weekend exercises in 1961.  Subsequently Lliw Valley Borough Council offices were erected nearby, and opened in 1982, with a car park where the mansion once stood. 
Today Penllergare Country Park is much visited and the estate is gradually being restored, but to glimpse the grandeur of the demolished mansion one should peruse certain photographs of its principal occupant - John Dillwyn Llewelyn.

No comments:

Post a Comment